Vandals targeting ICE agents stepped over the line when they desecrated the unit’s flag outside the agency’s Burlington field office, a top immigration official told the Herald.

The federal Department of Homeland Security flag at the site was altered to read “ICE KILLS” and “Free Them All.”

“Unfortunately, this is typical of those who think they can overturn the rule of law by criminal acts,” said Todd M. Lyons, acting field office director of enforcement and removal operations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Boston.

“A crisis is no time to stop enforcing the law,” Lyons said Thursday.

ICE agents have worked during the pandemic targeting illegal immigrant drug dealers and murderers from other countries, officials said. But they’ve been doing so while the country is locked in a debate over incarceration during the coronavirus outbreak.

Prisons — both in Massachusetts and across the nation — have struggled to deal with close quarters in lockups while trying not to set dangerous criminals free.

The vandalism of the unit’s flag was circulated on social media by groups who have been targeting ICE officers and calling for jails to let detainees go.

“Spotted today at ICE’s Boston Field Office to kick off our #FreeThemAll National Day of Action. Done anonymously, the new flag reads: “ICE Kills. Free Them All.” #FreeThemAll,” tweeted one supporter.

Lyons said keeping city streets safe, from Boston to Lawrence and all over New England, has to come first.

“Our ICE officers, who are first responders who have never stopped doing their work of protecting our communities from violent criminal aliens during this pandemic, will not be intimidated or dissuaded from protecting the communities of the commonwealth,” Lyons said.

“As to their ‘message,’ we’re already seeing on our streets, especially in Boston, the dangerous impacts that come from the idea of taking advantage of a health crisis by ‘letting everyone out’ of all detention centers,” he added.

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross Thursday lashed out at gunplay in the city by a few criminals and gang members.

“Violent offenders should not be released to the neighborhoods. … They’re coming back without a re-entry program,” Gross said.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who houses some illegal immigrant detainees at the Bristol County House of Correction, said setting offenders free is backfiring. He said detainees released by a federal judge over coronavirus concerns are flouting house arrest orders by leaving their homes.


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